Proposed cuts to East Sussex bus services are draconian

Two local political parties have joined the widespread condemnation of proposals to cut bus services.

Their comments come as East Sussex County Council’s cabinet on Tuesday agreed a 12-week public consultation on changes to the way services are subsidised.

Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Lewes described the proposals as “draconian”, while Lewes Green Party said cuts in bus services would lead to “social isolation”.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, the Labour hopeful, said services to and from Lewes and local villages could be cut almost in half.

He said: “East Sussex County Council is planning to reduce local bus services in order to find £1.79 million worth of savings to the transport budget from April 2015. But the draconian reductions in services covering local villages will hit older people and people on lower incomes harder than anyone else.

“With some services reduced to every two hours only and others to only two days a week, people from the local area will find it harder to get into Lewes for shopping, medical appointments and social activities.

“And with fares set to increase by up to 30 per cent there’s a huge risk that people won’t be able to travel at all, increasing social isolation and damaging jobs and businesses, or they will be forced to turn to cars, increasing congestion and parking problems in town. This proposal, as it stands, is bad for bus users, bad for business and bad for Lewes.”

Lewes Labour Party will be talking to local people to gather views and make sensible alternative proposals to counter the proposed cuts, Mr Russell-Moyle added.

Lewes Green Party said it strongly opposes the county council proposals to reduce the subsidy for local bus services.

It said 20 per cent of households in Lewes District do not have access to a car, and Green councillors say all Lewes District residents deserve a frequent and affordable bus service.

Green councillor Ashley Price said: “I am very concerned about the impact of these cuts should they go ahead. Living on the Nevill Estate myself I know many people with mobility problems or those with small children rely on the buses to get into Lewes and back. Cuts in bus services lead to social isolation as well as a detrimental effect on the environment.”

Cllr Susan Murray said: “It seems extraordinary that the council can find £56m for the Bexhill Link Road and yet want to cut their support for local buses from £2.9m to £700,000. It really is completely unacceptable for them to say that residents in rural areas can simply access their needs via the internet.

“Cuts to bus services encourages car use and all the pollution, delays and increase in traffic danger that entails. We would urge everyone to respond to the consultation, or get in touch with one of your Green town councillors if you would like us to respond on your behalf. ”

The council insists that under the proposals, supported services which operate during peak hours would be largely unchanged and the vast majority of children travelling to their nearest school would be unaffected.

For 91 per cent of current passengers, there would be no change to the services on offer, the council said, while more than 95 per cent of users would still have access to a six day a week service.

“We want to hear the views of bus users who rely on these services,” said Cllr Carl Maynard, the county council’s lead member for transport and environment.

“We need to strike the right balance between financially supporting privately-owned bus companies to run economically unviable services around the county and ensuring that our taxpayers are getting value for money and that the limited funds we have benefit those most in need.”

He added: “Under these proposals, peak services are generally unaffected meaning those people travelling to work, education or training can continue to do so using supported services. During off-peak hours passengers would generally have access to services, but may find they are reduced.”

The proposals suggest that supported off-peak daytime services that currently operate hourly or better would still operate Monday to Saturday with a reduced frequency, off peak daytime services that currently operate less than hourly would generally be reduced to a service operating two days a week.

Financial support for 13 evening and Sunday services would be withdrawn under the proposals and funding for dial-a-ride would be reduced to provide a minimum two days a week service.

Cllr Maynard added: “The council needs to save £110m in the 10 years to 2020 and is having to make some difficult decisions to achieve this. This proposal would save the council £1.79million over two years. We have not and will not make a decision until we have received feedback from the public about the impact these proposed changes will have on their lives. I would urge as many people as possible to respond to the consultation.”